Michael Priddle 1947 – 2011 RIP

I had one of those awful e mails a week or so ago, the name of an old Art School friend was shown as the sender, followed by the words ‘sad news’. I sat looking at it wth a sinking heart. I opened the three or so other e mails in the inbox first. I wanted to put off the evil moment for as long as possible. I have lost so many close friends in the past few years. This is one of the hideous truths of entering the zone of late middle / early old age. Your friends start dying off around you. In this case the friend was Michael Priddle.  I had known him well since we had both gone to saturday morning painting classes for children in the old Brighton Art School building on Grand Parade. He was a middle class Grammar School boy, I was working class Secondary Modern. We were both twelve and inflamed by ‘art’. He was eccentric even at that age. Inceredibly polite and wildly enthusiastic. We would often visit the Brighton reference library together, then housed in the Dome building just across the road from the art school. This was mainly to look through a particularly large and glossy book on Salvador Dali. We were entranced by both Dali’s technique and his vision especially in such pictures as Premonition of a Civil War, or The Young Bride Auto-Sodomised by Her Own Chastity, though I doubt we understood the full import of the latter.

He managed to ride an eccentric old sit up and beg style bicycle at a time when we all wanted Claude Butler racing bikes with white taped drop handles and deraillier gears. He had exotic looks too, a kind of natural mediterranean tan with very black hair and a wide smile. Our ambition was to attend the art school full time at sixteen, something which happily we both managed to achieve. It would be hard to exaggerate the overwhelming sense of happiness we felt at that time and the thrill of moving forward into art school proper. After foundation he went off to Paint on the fine art course and I went off to Graphics and illustration. We led the usual sort of rackety 1960s art school lives, him much more than me as he lived away from home. He fell in love easily, wildly, and passionately. I remember his telling me about a visit he made to a girlfriend’s house to have tea with her and her father.  He had been summoned just after he taken a tab of acid. He was therefore in, as it were, ‘mid trip’ when he arrived at their door. He managed through all of the drug incuced heightened reality to maintain his veneer of total politeness and was able to sit taking tea and cake while completely off his gourd and letting none of it slip through the mask for an instant.

His eccentricities were well known to all of us at the art school and when it was his 21st birthday we clubbed together and bought him a fine Victorian group of stuffed frogs engaged in various pursuits including one in a jaunty beret standing at an easel painting and he later used an image of a frog on his professional card. After Art School he stayed in Brighton for a while painting in room in Kemp Town with his bald parrot (it fell into some paint) and latterly in his little flat high up in Montpelier Road. He never really recovered from seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey on the Cinerama Screen in Old Compton Street. His paintings after that time were full of references to robotics and oddly alienated states. There was a real fragility too as well as all the charm and eccentricity. He was ambitious but somehow lacked real self belief. He mounted an exhibition of his work in the foyer of the national theatre in I think 1978, and spent needless sums on full colour posters advertising it, in the event only his old friends turned up for the private view. He taught at Hastings School of Art and then at Chelsea and finally at Camberwell. We drifted apart. I would occasionally see him but I think he found the conventions of family life (I had three children by then) too much to take in. I saw him last at Camberwell College of Art when I gave a lecture on Edward Ardizzone. He was in the audience and after the talk pressed into my hands a very heavy envelope containing a novel he had written and asking me for an honest critique. The novel was as eccentric as its creator, but alas not really publishable, I did encourage him with the fact that he had actually finished writing a large and complex work of fiction, an achievement in itself. He announced that he was moving to live in the little ‘bothy’ in France which had bought some years before and where he spent his summers. It was not far from the Spanish border near Ceret. I never saw him again. I gather that he gave up painting and spent his time there writing. I have so far seen nothing else that he has written. He had alienated many of his old painter friends and withdrawn from contact with almost anyone. A French neighbour found him dead in his bed apparently of pleurisy. He had been dead for a week or so, a sad ending to a life so full of vivacity and promise.

I vividly remember going for a walk with him over the south downs near Lewes one glorious summer morning in 1975. We walked across the top of the hills while larks rose and sang in a flawless blue sky, it was a perfect moment. I took one or two photographs while we lay in the sun and chatted as ever about art and music and books. He had played to me just before we left for our walk William Walton’s Cappriccio Burlesque, a piece of typical jaunty Waltonian syncopated exuberance, a piece that I have associated with Michael ever since.

RIP Michael, your soul is surely out somewhere spinning in the Cinerama vastness of space just like the wide eyed baby star child at the end of 2001.
_______________________________________________

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About archiebeck47

I am an author and illustrator of books for children and young adults.
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26 Responses to Michael Priddle 1947 – 2011 RIP

  1. Joyce Dunbar says:

    This made me cry Ian. My friends are dying too or going mad. It is awful to see young hopes come to nothing. The association with Brighton meant something too. I had a whirlwind wedding there – which ended sadly 23 years later. My daughter lives there, in gold pillared one room ballroom flat on sea front.
    Why not send it to The Guardian section called ‘other lives’ obituaries for the non famous by people who loved them.

  2. Damian Gascoigne says:

    Hello,
    What strange timing led me to look up the name of Mike Priddle,
    an ex teaching colleague from Camberwell Foundation Course in the late 80’s,
    whilst unable to sleep in the middle of the night, on the other side of the world
    In South Korea.
    I hadn’t seen Mike since I moved on from Camberwell in 1993, but he was
    someone who would regularly pop up in my mind. Your tribute brings back
    such a vivid picture of him.
    He was one of those truly inspiring ‘Old School’ art tutors,
    teaching life drawing, and students adored him. He exuded passion for
    drawing the figure, and like a magic spell he set countless students spinning on their
    artistic journeys, that crucial voice saying “You can do anything, you can be anything.”
    I remember him talking about his place in France as clearly as yesterday.
    I remember his raucous laugh, and the dog-eared timetable, worn into two parts,
    that he would produce from his back pocket every time we needed to discuss life drawing sessions for my illustration group. We are made of the indelible impressions we make in each others lives and Mike was one of those people.
    Thanks for your post, I will raise a glass in his honour,
    Damian Gascoigne

    • Nick Wonham says:

      Damian, several years on and I too have just looked up Mike on Google and found this sad piece. You were probably both tutors of mine on the Camberwell Foundation course in 87/88, but I must admit it is Mike who I remember vividly. I included a caracature of him teaching life drawing in a comic strip, with other tutors (Clive, Jim, Liz), in my comic Ripped Jeans. Seeing his caracature delighted and perplexed him as I had portrayed him with some lighthearted criticism. I remember him showing us a slideshow of his paintings and thinking they were amazing. I remember him enjoying bringing dead pheasants and the like for us to draw, and inspiring us with copies of Soutine’s sides of beef paintings. I remember him urging me to read L’Assommoir and Madame Bovary. Thank you Ian for this eloquent memoir. Regards, Nick Wonham

  3. Tricia Hartshorn says:

    This is a beautiful epitaph Ian. I recall his name from long ago. For some reason whilst reading this I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway.

  4. Tricia Hartshorn says:

    A moving epitaph Ian. Sorry for your loss.

  5. Oh Archie, the memories your beautiful piece about Michael has brought back.

    The very first day of Art School, with you, Richard, Janice, Kathy, and of course, Michael. His wonderful smile and the infectious enthuthiasum, his joy and wonder about everything, his lust for life and again his smile. Brighton beach, Under-Cliff-Walk, Brighton Rock, the rusty iron of Palace Pier, the sweet smell of the rock stalls, and the yeasty smell from Brighton Brewery strong and tangy in the salt air. Michael with his roll-up of Old Holborn in licorice cigarette paper, thin as a twiglet, hunched over a drawing board in a never ending life class – none of us had ever worked so hard or so long just drawing, drawing and drawing.

    Michael with his old fashioned bike (I think he called her Lucy – everything was alive to him), Michael with his almost annoying ultra politeness, and his old fashioned manners and always his smile, his wide generous smile. His passion for paint. He was always going to paint. His love of the excentric, the Victorian, the strange, the romantic.

    His cockatoo (which eventuatly became bald), his room full of stuffed animals (including the wonderful frogs we clubbed together to buy, some of them playing billards. I think he even had a gorilla suit, if not I know he wanted one.

    The last time I saw Michael was over 30 years ago now. At the South bank Show you describe so well in your piece. I remember him saying that now with the proceeds of the show he could go and live in the South of France. He said the warmth would help him deal with the chronic pain he suffered due to a dramatic fall from a balcony in the late 60’s – did he fall or was he pushed (always a drama and a story surrounding Michael). But as it turned out he had spent a fortune on promoting the show and entertaining his friends, and so in fact it took him several years to pay for the whole thing.

    I am so glad he did eventually manage to get his place in France and I hope and trust his last years were as full of the wonder and love of the visual world as when I first knew him so long ago now.

    For someone who lived the life of the eccentric romantic artist I can think of worst places to go ‘out’ than alone in a stone hut set in the beautiful mountainside near Ceret in the warm south.

    Goodbye beautiful Michael.

  6. Here is a photo of Michael, Brighton beach, 1963
    /Users/ian/Desktop/Michael.jpg

  7. Mike Priddle also taught me at Chelsea and remains one of the most inspiring and influential teachers I ever had. So sad to hear about his death.

  8. I found this message from Mike on a website at http://www.recyclart.org/2011/03/characters-sculpture/
    “michael priddle
    wrote on March 15th, 2011
    some beautifully interesting new art . I also make sculptures and paintings on canvas from recycled builders waste materials, that I have collected from one or two of the beaches in IBIZA, a beautiful island in the med, where I currently work and live…I am not great with computers but if anyone would like to see my art, please feel free to e-mail me at mikpriddle@hotmail.com….keep up the good.”

  9. I am not sure this Michael from Ibiza is our Michael. It does not add up, he wasn’t living in Ibiza and the work does not sound right. However two Mike Priddles working as painters is quite a coincidence, perhaps we are in the realms of a Mutiverse, you never know!

  10. I hope someone talks of me with such love, one day
    Tony Priddle

  11. katebuxton says:

    I have just seen this piece and am very saddened by the news. Mike’s vibrant energy and his beautiful smile lit up our lives back in those early Brighton years. RIP Mike.
    Kathy B

    • archiebeck47 says:

      Dear Kathy Lovely to hear from you if only the circumstances were better. We are having a memorial party / celebration of Mike’s life in Brighton on the evening of 20 th of January at Alan Philip’s studio I will send full details if you send me your e mail address?

      Love Ian XX

  12. alltentoes says:

    Mike Priddle taught me (Mark Swain) at Hastings College of Art in 1974-75. I just happened to google his name for the first time tonight. I often think of him. Yes he was an inspirational teacher, a great illustrator and a lovely person. I remember him warning me about not getting addicted to Rotring pens (as he was), but I did. He did a great album cover for Planet Wave (I think) all with coloured Rotring pen ink. At that time he was still having operations on his metal joints which had been inserted as a result of a terrible accident where he fell out of a window out of his head in Brighton. I think it might have been at (my hero) Roger Dean’s house. It was a long time ago so my memory might be slightly off though. RIP, lovely man.

    • archiebeck47 says:

      Dear Mark

      Thank you so much for your contribution, In fact he fell out of a window dressed as a cowboy at a party in Holloway North London, he was fortunate to land on a narrow strip of front lawn another inch or so and the fall would have killed him. His was indeed a great and eccentric talent, RIP imdeed.

      • alltentoes says:

        Thanks Ian. Great to have that cleared up. Amazing surreal image of falling cowboy in my head. He showed me some superb illustrations (Rotring pen of course) he did of his many operations in order to help the surgeons keep a record of what had been done. This must have meant ops on his joints under local anaesthetic so he could draw what he saw. Ouch! Photographs were apparently just not clear enough to differentiate tendons etc with so much of same colour (red!) For a while he used to lug a huge copy of Grays Anatomy around with him.

  13. This is so so sad! Mike taught me at Hastings College and out of all the tutors he was the most beguiling, inspiring and special. Without his generous encouragement I doubt if I would have courage to continue on my quest to being an artist. Your epitaph describes him so well, he was wildly exuberant ( his laugh was loud and infectious), serious about his work but had an air of fragility and other worldliness. I haven’t seen him for years and now I never will. Rest in peace Mike, you are very much missed.

  14. Debra Peach ( ne Bradley) says:

    I’ll always remember Mike as a wildly enthusiastic character, full of charm and always happy with such an infectious laugh! I studied graphic design at Hastings College of Art in 1974 -75, and looked forward to learning something a bit different! Mike set projects which were exciting and challenging. We each brought in a radio, took it apart and drew a section of the electronics onto paper and then using designer’s gouache completed the composition. It ended up looking quite futuristic! Mike introduced me to using rapidograph pens! He used these for designing Seventh Wave’s prog rock album cover which is awesome!
    RIP lovely man.

  15. alltentoes says:

    Reblogged this on tinderboxpublishing and commented:
    I miss this lovely man every time I think of my time at Hastings Art College (1974-75 Industrial & Technical Graphics). He was a very special guy and a great teacher. Too gentle for this world.

  16. archiebeck47 says:

    Thanks for these new comments. He was indeed Mark I knew him when I was at school and he was eccentric enough then. We went to Saturday morning classes together at Brighton College of Art in 1960 and subsequently the Art School proper where of course he was something of a star turn as you may imagine.
    Ian

    • alltentoes says:

      Thanks Ian, yes indeed I can imagine. The thread of this blog and the link to the lovely Mike’s former friends and students keeps him alive in my mind. Please keep this blog up. It seems to take time for people to get the news.

  17. Paul Sedgwick says:

    Have just found this. Mike taught me art at Hastings college in the early 70’s. He introduced me to Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the moon , Maxfield Parrish and much more. I found him an adorable guy. So full of life and enthusiasm and hugely talented. I heard about his passing from Tony Bennett, the brilliant ceramics teacher at Hastings college, so sad. I think of him often with great fondness.

    • alltentoes says:

      Yes, this does seem to be what we all felt about him, Paul. I only hope he knew or somehow knows, how much we loved and appreciated him as a teacher and as person. Great feeling that every so often someone else appears on Ian’s blog with more memories of Mike. Best wishes, Mark Swain, Graphics ’74-5

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